Pension reform in August? | Blogs

Posted by Mike Riopell on Mon, 07/23/2012 – 13:48

The Illinois House’s planned return to Springfield Aug. 17 to deal with the possible expulsion of state Rep. Derrick Smith has led to some speculation that lawmakers could deal with pension reform that day, too.

With the Senate not planning to meet the same day, the only plan they could send to Gov. Pat Quinn in one day is the pension changes already approved by the Illinois Senate – cutting benefits of lawmakers and state workers, but leaving teachers alone for now.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, has called for just that today, asking House Speaker Michael Madigan to call the proposal for a vote before the November elections.

In Illinois, our chickens have come home to roost. Springfield can no longer postpone the tough decision that it has been avoiding for years. The time for pension funding reform is now.

Madigan, though, has been steadfast in wanting a pension proposal that shifts the future cost of teachers’ pensions from the state to local school districts, which isn’t included in the Senate plan Kotowski’s talking about.

via Pension reform in August? | Blogs.

Officer’s Facebook post sparks uproar | St. Cloud TIMES |

WILMINGTON, Del. — A few days after the Fourth of July, a police officer here logged onto his Facebook account and offered some advice to his 1,346 friends.

“A word to the wise never get drunk and trip off of meds and call a cop a ‘N’ results broken jaw and criminal charges……WPD for life,” wrote Officer Anthony Easterling, who is black.

After initially saying the post would only concern him if somebody filed a complaint, police Chief Michael Szczerba reversed course this past week and called for the department’s Office of Professional Standards to review the online message.

Szczerba declined to comment further and said he had no information about what prompted Easterling’s post. Other city officials also declined to comment about whether the post was appropriate, citing a lack of knowledge about what inspired it.

The city can not release Easterling’s rank or time of service because, under the state’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, it is prohibited from issuing that information while he is under an internal investigation, said Rich Neumann, communications director for Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker.

Despite officials’ reticence, Easterling’s post provided an example of the blurred line between police officers’ duties as public servants and their life as private citizens.  read more…

via Officer’s Facebook post sparks uproar | St. Cloud TIMES |

States hold sway over their cities in bankruptcy matters | MuniLand

Bloomberg View’s Josh Barro wrote an interesting piece Thursday urging Scranton, Pennsylvania to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Scranton has achieved national attention after the mayor reduced all city workers’ pay to minimum wage last week because the city could no longer afford paying their full salaries, a powerful image of how little cash Scranton has left.

The problem with Barro’s proposal is that Scranton cannot file for Chapter 9 without the consent of Pennsylvania’s state government. Chapter 9 bankruptcy is a part of the federal bankruptcy code, and it gives individual states the authority to decide whether their cities can go bankrupt:

States play a key role as gatekeepers or guardians in that, by virtue of [bankruptcy code] amendments codified in 1994, they have to specifically authorize their municipalities to file for Chapter 9. Silence on the matter is taken as a prohibition on filing.

If you watched the fiscal crisis unfold in Pennsylvania’s state capital of Harrisburg over the last two years, you saw how many obstacles the state imposed on its cities to prevent them from filing for bankruptcy. Pennsylvania’s Act 47 prescribes how the state can manage its fiscally distressed cities. My Reuters colleague Hilary Russ wrote an excellent story on the weaknesses of Act 47, including the fact that it requires no hard deadlines on cities to devise and implement a recovery plan. Scranton has been in the state’s distressed city program for 20 years.

Act 47 does allow for the appointment of an outside receiver with significant powers to negotiate with creditors and seek court approval to force a city to raise taxes. This is what’s happening in Harrisburg right now and could be considered equivalent to a state-level bankruptcy process.

Bankruptcy can be a very useful process for cities seeking to reduce debts. But cities also need to consider cutting the number of employees they have, stopping automatic pay increases, lowering pension costs and raising taxes and fees to generate more revenue. Chapter 9 bankruptcy does have a stigma that will significantly raise borrowing costs once a city regains access to the markets.

via States hold sway over their cities in bankruptcy matters | MuniLand.

Warning triggers another grievance – | News, Sports, Jobs, Lisbon, Ohio – The Morning Journal

LISBON – An unfair labor practice complaint has been filed by a Columbiana county sheriff’s deputy after his supervisor told him filing employee grievances costs the department money.

The complaint was filed with the State Employment Relations Board by Deputy Jon Price against Columbiana County Chief Deputy Sheriff Allen Haueter, saying the conversation violated his rights under state law.

The complaint dates back to April, when the deputies and sergeants filed a grievance alleging a work-place practice violated the union contract. Price said he was later contacted by Haueter, who reminded him of a prior conversation about possible layoffs.

According to the complaint, Haueter told Price grievances cost the county thousands of dollars, and while some of them are legitimate, many are not. Price said when he attempted to respond, Haueter cut him off and asked him if he was aware grievances cost the county money.

Price says the conversation amounted to an unfair labor practice because Haueter’s “statements/warning/threats regarding the filing of grievances … interfered with, restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed” under Ohio law.

Haueter conceded he was wrong to speak with Price about grievances, but he was trying to make a point after Price had asked him earlier about his chances of being laid off. The sheriff’s budget was cut by $110,000 this year by county commissioners, who reduced appropriations to nearly every county office due to an expected drop in revenue.

Haueter said he was trying to make the point that money for contesting these grievances comes from the sheriff’s budget, which will leave them that much shorter at the end of the year.

“I didn’t threaten or intimidate him, but that’s what they’re calling it,” Haueter said, adding he has offered to apologize to resolve the unfair labor practice complaint.

Sheriff Ray Stone said there is no penalty for what Haueter did other than SERB will order them to cease this behavior, “which has already been done.”

Stone said that as the deputy with the least seniority, Price would likely be the first to be laid, if it comes to that.

“I don’t intend to lay any one off, and I’ll do my darndest not to, but he is right,” Stone said of Haueter’s argument that grievances cost the department money and could hasten the need for layoffs should a budget shortfall occur.

© Copyright 2012 Morning Journal News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

via Warning triggers another grievance – | News, Sports, Jobs, Lisbon, Ohio – The Morning Journal.


Most Democratic strongholds are bankrupt

The recent flurry of cities declaring Chapter 9 bankruptcy shouldn’t be startling news. After all, the U.S. itself is bankrupt. Even the International Monetary Fund has effectively declared America bankrupt. So has our very own Congressional Budget Office.

One segment of the Democratic coalition which benefits from the endless number of social programs – food stamps, welfare etc. couldn’t care less. But public sector unions are probably the core of the President’s coalition because these were his roots when a street organizer, and that’s where the hefty campaign contributions are.

The municipal Democratic strongholds are a predictable reflection of their spendthrift national Democratic leadership. (Like father, like son.) San Bernardino became the third California city to declare bankruptcy, but it won’t be the last. They were followed by Scranton, Pa. And Detroit, another Democratic stronghold, already had its general obligation bonds rated as junk last summer. Providence, R.I., is hanging on by its fingernails. Central falls, R.I., filed for bankruptcy in August 2011 – and the beat goes on.

Other mayors around the country are paying attention regardless of party affiliation – and they’re all thinking the same thing: Let’s do it.

By declaring bankruptcy they will jump-start fundamental fiscal reform – particularly the legacy costs of public sector union retirees. (Chapter 9 essentially provides for reorganization with the federal bankruptcy judge, an officer of the U.S. Federal District court, calling the shots, not the unions.)

The lack of funding levels for these benefits is disgraceful. The Kellogg School of Management calculates a stunning $4 trillion shortfall between the benefits promised to public sector retirees and just how much funding will be available.

The irony may be self-evident, but it would be poetic justice for Mitt Romney to take a page from Barack Obama’s playbook and hammer home the need to “fundamentally transform America” – but this time back to a constitutional federal republic – and as quickly as possible. The economic fallout from the policies and the destructive identity politics of President Obama have both polarized the country and put it in economic free-fall. The liberal progressive philosophy of the left-wing of the Democratic Party has rapidly permeated our social fabric, and nowhere is more evident than at the municipal level.

Some California towns are considering using eminent domain to restructure underwater mortgages to market value. But eminent domain was designed to serve a public purpose. This scheme was devised by an Obama supporter who was a former California state treasurer, and Chair of Obama’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, whose company would collect a fee on every deal.

A thorough analysis of the negative effects of this scheme goes beyond the scope of this column, but it clearly displays liberal progressive thinking at its worst as they troll for votes; and the desperation of cities now paying a steep price for pandering to their union constituencies ever since public sector unions were given the green light to organize. (Wisconsin was the first state to permit collective bargaining by government employees in 1959.)

Many mayors and governors have stopped pandering for union votes; opting instead for fiscal sanity. Not the President. Obama also has – by presidential fiat – redefined welfare to work reform to mean anything to get the welfare vote. He has legalized close to a million illegals to get the Latino vote, and has pushed food stamp commercials and parties for the food stamp vote. And the list goes on. His re-election strategy means more government spending, and sadly creates more dependency on government – which is precisely his goal. And Obama is ahead in the polls.

Many mayors, on the other hand, now realize that cities must live within the means of its taxpayers.

How many times have failing organizations of any kind said, “Let’s go back to the basics” – the principles that made us successful in the first place. To really go back we’d have to revisit 17th century John Locke of the English school of “Common Sense” who had a profound influence on the Framers and whose words can be found in the Declaration of Independence.

As a firm believer in individualism and a limited government whose political power “derives solely from the consent of the governed,” he believed the reason men “put themselves “under government” is the need for the preservation of their private property. This is underscored in Federalist No. 10 where James Madison writes that the protection of property rights as being “the first object of government.”

While out of control federal spending is being hotly debated these days, let’s not forget our municipalities. By comparison, while social entitlement programs – not unions – are bankrupting the federal government – at the municipal level the other is true. Virtually all mayors agree.

It is remarkable how we have drifted from classic “liberal” limited government whose purpose was to protect property, and let citizens rely on their “own strength,” to where we are now, where public sector unions dictate to local government. (How limited can a city government be with 36,000 employees? (Chicago.)

President Franklin Roosevelt himself told union bosses, “The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for [government] officials to bind the employer…because the employer is the whole people.” The naivety of his reasoning was obvious. He thought all the people are the employer. Wrong. It is government – and they bid for labor’s vote.

We’ve all heard the horror stories, such as one third of Long Island’s police officers retiring on disability pensions in their 30s and 40s at three quarters of their salary – called the disability lottery in police parlance. But also the indirect costs of unions, like in Gainesville, which, according to one city official, pays for a full-time labor relations director, a staff assistant, a city attorney skilled in labor relations issues, and occasionally outside counsel.

Think of this: Without a union, Gainesville could hire more officers to protect their citizens. But then the police wouldn’t have a union to protect themselves from the taxpayer.

Roosevelt and Locke were in agreement on one point. Government exists not from the right of any particular group; or as FDR said, “The process of collective bargaining… cannot be transplanted into the public service.”

Educators nationwide give money to Minnesota soldier-teacher | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

WINONA, Minn. — A Winona teacher who was forced to pay for substitute teachers while he served in Afghanistan has received more than $13,000  donated by educators from around the country.

A collection for Matt Reuter (pronounced ROY’-ter) was taken at the recent National Education Association convention after teachers learned Reuter was responsible, under an obscure state law, for $11,300 in pay to the substitutes. The amount was deducted from his back pay.

Reuter had the opportunity to lobby Gov. Mark Dayton about the law earlier this year and Dayton helped change it so veterans are no longer required to pay for their own substitute teachers.

KAGE-AM reports Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher says the Obama administration is looking into similar laws across the country.

via Educators nationwide give money to Minnesota soldier-teacher | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

Commentary: Are unions’ political views alienating rank and file?

COMMENTARY By CHUCK DENOWH | Coalition to Protect Montana Jobs

Do unions really represent workers anymore?

With declining interest in union participation, not to mention the increased polarization in union politics, one has to wonder if the labor movement lost its way.

It’s no secret that organized labor is not popular these days. Union membership has steadily declined for years and has hit an all-time low: 11.8 percent of the workforce in 2011.

Compare that with the apex of union participation in the 1950s when 1 in 3 workers belonged to a union.

But those numbers don’t tell the entire story. Today, more than half of union members are government workers, complemented by an upward trend in public-sector union membership. Union participation in the private sector however, is moving in the opposite direction with less than 7 percent of the workforce.

The question is why are workers reluctant to join the labor unions that were once so popular? Unions point to a number of economic factors, like globalization.  But another factor that has led to union-membership decline is the increasing polarization of union politics.

A recent exposé by the Wall Street Journal revealed that union spending in politics over the last decade was four times greater than previously reported.  If state and local political involvement is included, unions spent a whopping $4.4 billion on political activity in just 10 years—only $1.1 billion of that was reported to the Federal Elections Commission.

For Democrats, political spending by unions is incredibly important.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, over 90 percent of union spending goes to Democrats.  Contrast that with business political spending, which is roughly even for Democrats and Republicans.

The implication is that for Democrats, unions are one of the most important sources of campaign cash.  Over the years, the symbiotic relationship between Big Labor and Democratic candidates has led unions to drift further and further to the left on issues—and become ever more shrill in their political rhetoric.

That has become increasingly off-putting to union members.  In recent elections, union households have voted around 40 percent for Republican candidates.  Simultaneously, they watch their union dues go to candidates they don’t support and their leaders espouse liberal political views they don’t agree with.

So what is Big Labor to do to maintain a membership base when their own actions have turned off their rank-and-file?

For the Obama administration, the answer has been to upend the rules that have governed union organizing for decades.  Obama’s National Labor Relations Board has been systematically dismantling the rules that protect both workers and employers with the single-minded objective to make it easier for unions to add members—even workers who’d rather have nothing to do with unions.

Allowing union-organizing elections to occur in as little as seven days, the NLRB has instituted “ambush” elections, thereby blocking any meaningful opposition to organize against them.  Of course, this creates a situation where workers have little chance to make a fully-informed decision.

The NLRB is also proposing to force employers to hand over private worker information, like home addresses and telephone numbers, so union organizers can contact workers at home.  This highly sensitive info would be handed over whether the workers want it to or not.

But, the latest NLRB rule—derisively dubbed the “micro-union” rule—would upset generations of union organizing practice by allowing multiple collective bargaining units or micro-unions in a single workplace.

They would also allow unions to cherry-pick the workers they want and leave others out.  The micro-union rule is bad for workers because it will inevitably lead to division in the workplace between different groups of workers, and it’s bad for employers who will now have to negotiate with numerous union groups.

These latest attempts by the NLRB to change the rules on union organizing aren’t designed to improve the lot of workers, and they aren’t going to help create jobs.  These new rules are designed to perpetuate the Big Labor money machine that Democrats have come to rely on for their electoral success.

The irony is that the harder Big Labor plunges into politics, the less American workers want to have anything to do with them.

Chuck Denowh is the spokesman for the Coalition to Protect Montana Jobs, an organization focused on protecting Montana jobs and supporting workers and small businesses. He can be reached at

via Commentary: Are unions’ political views alienating rank and file?.